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‘Ball Four’ author, ex-Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton dies at 80

His book changed the way fans view pro sports.
Jim Bouton loses cap while pitching against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 1964 World Series at Yankee Stadium. He won two games in that World Series. A year later, he developed a sore arm that derailed his career on the field. Three years later, notes he took about his season became "Ball Four," published in June 1970. [Associated Press (1964) ]
Published Jul. 11

Ex-Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton was a 20-game winner, won two World Series games, spent 10 years in the big leagues — and made a bigger impact with a pen in his hand than a baseball.

The author of the groundbreaking hardball tell-all Ball Four died Wednesday (July 10, 2019) after suffering with a brain disease linked to dementia, friends of the family said. He died in the Great Barrington, Mass., home he shared with his wife Paula Kurman after weeks of hospice care. He was 80.

Mr. Bouton also had two strokes in 2012.

Mr. Bouton, who made his major-league debut in 1962, threw so hard in his early years that his cap routinely flew off his head as he released the ball. By the time he reached the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, the sore-armed Mr. Bouton had reinvented himself as a knuckleballer.

Mr. Bouton spent that season collecting quotes, notes and anecdotes about life in the big leagues for his acclaimed book Ball Four. Released amid a storm of controversy in 1970, the account of Mr. Bouton’s tumultuous year was the only sports book cited when the New York Public Library drew up its list of the best books of the 20th century.

In Ball Four, Mr. Bouton also exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, the widespread use of stimulants (known as “greenies”) in major-league locker rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Pilots manager Joe Schultz.

But the book caused most of his old teammates to ostracize him, and he was blackballed from Yankees events for nearly 50 years, until the team made amends last season by inviting Mr. Bouton to the annual Old-Timers Day event, where he was given an emotional standing ovation.

Mr. Bouton, across his pro career, posted a mediocre record of 62-63, with an ERA of 3.57. But for two seasons, on the last of the great 1960s Yankees teams of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford, he emerged as a top-flight pitcher.

In 1963 he went 21-7 with six shutouts and lost a 1-0 World Series decision to the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. A year later, Mr. Bouton’s record was 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and he won a pair of World Series starts against the Cardinals.

Mr. Bouton injured his right arm in 1965, going 4-15 that season, and saw limited action the next three seasons with New York. He worked on Ball Four in 1969 as he spent the season with the expansion Pilots and Houston Astros, his fastball replaced by a knuckleball as he tried to prolong his career.

Mr. Bouton’s career ended after the 1970 season with the Astros, though he returned for a five-game cameo with the Braves in 1978, going 1-3 at age 39.

Mr. Bouton also was a television sportscaster in New York City; wrote other books; appeared in the 1973 movie The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman, and starred in a 1976 CBS sitcom based on Ball Four that lasted only five episodes. He and a former teammate developed Big League Chew, a bubble gum alternative to tobacco.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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